The first case of bird flu appeared in the United States just as hard-hit Thailand said it hoped to clear the last outbreak of an epidemic that has killed 18 people and decimated poultry flocks across Asia.
More than 12,000 chickens have been quarantined in the US state of Delaware and are due to be destroyed after they were found to have a strain of the virus which differs from the one that has killed people in Thailand and Viet Nam, the Delaware State News reported.
Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Michael Scuse told the newspaper the strain found in the US chickens was known as H7. The killer Asian strain was H5N1.
"We are trying to act as quickly as possible," Scuse told the Delaware State News. "We are trying to protect an industry here that is awfully valuable."
In addition to the destruction of the 12,000 chickens in Delaware's Kent County, all farms within two miles of the infected birds will be tested within the next week, Scuse said.
The Republic of Korea, which is battling its own outbreak of the virus, reacted swiftly to reports of the discovery in Delaware, immediately halting imports of US poultry.
News of the US outbreak came on the same day the Prime Minister of Thailand -- one of the 10 Asian countries hardest hit by the epidemic -- said he expected the last outbreak of the virus to be contained within days.
"There is only one red zone, in Bangkok at Lat Krabang. We hope to clear that within one or two days," Thaksin Shinawatra said in his weekly radio address to the nation.
Thailand, the world's fourth biggest chicken exporter has slaughtered 26 million fowl and was confident the virus was under control, Thaksin said.
Last week, Thailand had more than 140 of the "red zones," the five-km (three-mile) area around a confirmed outbreak within which the government orders the slaughter of all poultry.
Officials say they will go back over all the former red zones to make certain the virus, which has killed at least five Thais as well as at least 13 Vietnamese, has been eradicated.
In neighboring Viet Nam, authorities in the capital Hanoi ordered the cull of all poultry in the city.
"At present Hanoi is applying some forceful measures including destroying poultry to protect its environment and to stop it from spreading to other localities," said Bui Quang Anh, director of the Department of Animal Health.
He did not say why Hanoi's fowl were targeted, but the majority of the 13 human deaths from the H5N1 flu strain have occurred in the north, near Hanoi.
The Hanoi Moi (New Hanoi) newspaper reported Saturday that the destruction of all poultry in Hanoi would take effect from February 7.
Anh said about 17 million poultry in Viet Nam have been killed by the virus or culled. There are an estimated 250 million fowl in Viet Nam. It was unclear how many of those were in Hanoi.
Prime Minister Phan Van Khai has ordered that the outbreak be brought under control within the month. The same optimism was being aired in Thailand.
The government -- which admits it was slow to realize there was a bird flu epidemic but says it acted swiftly once it did -- is now trying to persuade people who have shunned poultry during the crisis to eat chicken again.
The Bangkok Post newspaper said army chefs across the country had been ordered to put chicken back on their menus in a bid to allay public fears.
Army chief General Chaisit Shinawatra had instructed mess halls to serve chicken at least three days a week to both officers and other ranks, it said.
"Soldiers will serve as role models in proving it was safe to eat well-cooked chickens," it quoted a military official as saying.
The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization estimates 50 million poultry have been killed in Asia, including Taiwan and Pakistan which have reported outbreaks of a milder strain which cannot cross the species barrier. FAO assistant director-general Louise Fresco said this week that re-stocking alone will cost the afflicted countries US$150 million.
(China Daily February 8, 2004)